Oklahoma partners with Cherokee Nation to fight nursing shortage

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As the oldest municipality in the state of Oklahoma, the city of Tahlequah has a rich and fascinating history.

By U2B Staff 

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As the oldest municipality in the state of Oklahoma, the city of Tahlequah has a rich and fascinating history. At the very heart of that history are the native American tribes that inhabited the area long before the British invaded.

The settlement was established as the capital of the Cherokee Nation in 1839 at the end of the devastating forced tribal relocation mission, the Trail of Tears.

Historic Cherokee buildings from the time still stand in the town’s centre, and the Cherokee Indian Nation maintains its tribal offices in Tahlequah.

Central to Cherokee history is Northeastern State University (NSU), which was proudly founded in 1846 as the Cherokee National Female Seminary.


The university’s connection with the tribal nation is still alive and well, and goes well beyond just the historic buildings on campus.

NSU keeps close ties with their founders; ties they have built on in recent weeks in response to community outcry for more nurses in Cherokee County.

Earlier in July, NSU teamed up with the Cherokee Nation, along with Connors State College and Northeastern Health System, on a new satellite nursing programme.

The collaboration launched the course with a signing of a memorandum of understanding on July 8. The parties have agreed that NSU will provide space and resources on the Tahlequah campus for Connors State College (CSC) to carry out a satellite version of their current Associate of Applied Science in Nursing Programme.

Cherokee Nation and Northeastern Health System are providing funding for a faculty position for the programme.


“Future graduates of this nursing program will provide direct patient care to those with heath challenges and will bolster the number of health professionals in the area,” NSU President, Dr. Steve Turner, said in a statement.

“The financial support provided by the Cherokee Nation and Northeastern Health System is key to the programme’s success. NSU is pleased to work with Connors State College to increase the number of nurses in Green Country.”

The partnership will expand current nursing education and workforce opportunities for CSC and NSU students, improving the overall health and well-being of the citizens of Cherokee County, the Cherokee Nation and patients of Northeastern Health System.

The shortage of nurses is a statewide issue in Oklahoma with just 700 registered nurses for every 100,000 people. This is well below the national average of 1,150 per 100,000.


A combination of increased demand due to an ageing population and an increase of nurses retiring is driving the shortage. According to the Oklahoma Board of Nursing, about 38 percent of RNs are age 50 and older.

“Increasing options for health care education in northeast Oklahoma means we are able to help fill the workforce needs of the future and allow young people the ability to compete for jobs here at home,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker.

“Producing skilled nurses with an associate degree from Connors State and bachelor’s degree from NSU addresses the health care shortage we see today across rural Oklahoma and makes it easier for nurses to advance their degrees. Cherokee Nation is proud to play a major role in this unique and forward-thinking collaboration of tribal, community and higher education institutions.”